Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

Laura Chant lives with her Mum and beloved little brother Jacko and she has ‘warnings’. Odd sensations overcome her. She’s had them before, when their Dad left the family home and when she met Sorry (Sorenson) a prefect at her high school. And now she’s had another one.

Cover of The Changeover

Warily she continues through her day at school, picks up Jacko and walks home, everything as normal. Except on the way they pass a shop that was never there before and the strange, rather sinister old bloke inside bothers her enormously…

Jacko’s health starts to deteriorate, his life hanging in the balance, and Laura is convinced it’s because of the man in the shop. Her Mum is struggling to make ends meet, keep her job and be a loving Mum, there for her children. It’s tough going and Laura’s mad ideas are just not going anywhere. Laura feels herself to be alone.

So she turns to Sorry for help, knowing, believing he is a witch.

The Changeover is classed as a teenage story with supernatural elements. I first heard it as an adult, as it was read on a children’s holiday programme. I missed the last few episodes and headed to the library. I had to know what happened. There appears to be more going on with Sorry and Laura than meets the eye and what happened to Jacko? Are Laura’s bizarre theories correct? I was so pleased I tracked the book down.

Whilst I have read sci-fi and Fantasy, The Changeover avoids both genres. It’s a darn good story with witches and a bit of magic thrown in and it works. I was caught up in a great story and characters. Jacko is a small boy I wanted to live, not die and I found myself driven to read on, to urge Laura to put some of her thoughts into action, to save him if she could.

As a young woman New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox met Margaret Mahy and got to know her well. In her introduction to the latest edition she writes of the her hero Margaret Mahy:

“I’m thinking of her laugh, her hats, her dogs and cats, her winter coughs, her knitted coats, her rainbow wig, and very imposing penguin suit. I’m thinking of her long sentences and pithy quips; of the rose window of the top bedroom of her flat in Cranmer Square; of her empty refrigerator, of her very model of a modern Major General and, in the same vein, her virtuoso “Bubble Trouble”, and the loving rapture in her grandson Harry’s eyes when he watched her perform it at the launch of Tessa Duder’s book”.

A recent reread of The Changeover as a middle aged adult and I still loved every minute of it AND there’s a movie coming in September AND its filmed in Christchurch, New Zealand, Margaret Mahy’s home town. Will watching a favoured book turned into a movie be iffy? Possibly (watch the trailer below and judge for yourself). But I will go and pay homage to a wonderful writer.

The Changeover
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781869713553

Charlie Parker is back

A detective novel with a supernatural twist, what more could you ask for!  This is exactly how I would describe John Connolly’s books about Maine PI Charlie Parker.  Parker’s first appearance was in Connolly’s first novel, Every Dead Thing, in which Charlie Parker’s wife and child are killed and he becomes consumed with hatred and a desire for revenge.  He quits the NYPD and gains his private eye license in order to track down his wife and daughter’s killer.  This career change sets him on a path that sees him come up against some pretty disturbing people and all sorts of evil. 

In Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker thriller, The Lovers, Parker has to delve into his past and dredge up some memories that he would have sooner forgotten, and we also learn alot about his parents and the decisions that they had to make to protect him.  I’ve only read a few of Connolly’s books about Parker but I now want to go back and read some of the earlier ones to fill in some gaps.  However, you don’t have to have read any of his previous books to understand what’s going on. 

I’m not really into crime books that are told from the perspective of police detectives or forensic experts as I find them a little too bogged down in jargon.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy Connolly’s books so much as Parker is a PI working on his own and following his own rules, with some help from his acquaintances Angel and Louis.  I also find that the feel of his books is similar to Dean Koontz as they’ve got a dark nature to them.

Gone … Hunger … what’s next?

I’ve just finished the second Gone novel by Michael Grant, entitled Hunger. And I can now say that I do totally agree with the VOYA review quoted on the back “If Stephen King has written Lord of the Flies, it might have been a little like this”.

It’s a creepy series so far, and given that Michael Grant (who is married to K.A. Applegate – of Animorphs fame) has written the third book in the series called Lies and has stated publicly that the forth has a working title of Plague, it looks set to get a whole lot more creepy. Apparently it is going to be a six book series.

You can check out the official word on Michael Grant on the Harper Collins site. However, I preferred to read the blog entitled Stupid Blog name, where Michael Grant has been blogging about this series, and other things that interest him, along with a whole bunch of other YA authors. Back to the books …

The gist in the first book, Gone, is that one day everyone over the age of fourteen disappears, in many cases the adults literally disappear in front of their kids. They simply cease to exist. Left behind is a group of confused and lost kids, from babies through to fouteen year olds. Upset, sacred and perplexed, those left behind have to work out what they are supposed to do now.

Throw in some kids with supernatural power, throw in a stranger or two to the area, throw in a nuclear power plant, throw in an increasing lack of food, throw in babies and pre-schoolers. It’s a volatile and emotional situation, and it’s damned intriguing to read about what happens to this disparate group of kids over the coming weeks after the disappearance of normality.

The second book, Hunger : a Gone novel, delves into the reality of no food, no adults, a growing number of bullies, separation of the community into those who have powers and those who don’t, creepy things lurking in the night, animals morphing into new creatures, packs of coyotes roaming the land. The second book rocks in at 590 pages. There’s rumours of movie options, so I would say, grab a copy of the first book now to keep up with the series and be prepared to be more than a a little creeped out.